Ten tips for independent practitioners returning to work

Return to work, stay at home or adopt a hybrid approach? Specialist medical accountant Vanessa Sanders has some timely advice for doctors to consider for themselves and staff too 

Doctors more than most will understand the risks associated with returning to work and – as we are all painfully aware – many have no work to which they can return. That includes a fair number who are part of private medical practice. 

At Stanbridge Associates, we have assisted quite a few consultants with how to approach redundancy for staff and the reverberations are still echoing as the real damage is being calculated. This blow has taken its financial as well as emotional toll. 

However, some staff will be returning and, with this in mind, here are some tips and advice for how to encourage and cope with them returning to work as smoothly as possible. 

Before any person whom you are responsible for returns, carry out a specific risk assessment. If they are to return, perform simple but effective actions which make people feel safer and more secure.

1 Ensure your workplace is Covid-secure 

Of course you know about hand sanitiser and social distancing, including the use of mask-wearing and keeping people in working bubbles to restrict the potential spread, but also think about implementing a one-way system, adding extra signage, reducing capacity in lifts and putting out cleaning equipment. 

2 Open up a conversation with your employees 

Make sure to explain all the steps taken to make it as safe as possible to return to the workplace. 

3 Be ready to talk honestly  

Remain open to questions and listen to concerns. 

Do your best to provide answers to staff when they ask you about their safety at work and ensure you have considered each person’s risk profile and taken steps to mitigate this. 

If any staff have personal circumstances which require extra caution – for example, if an employee has a disability – it may make their return more challenging and require you to make further adjustments.

4 Consider a timetable of return 

Think about who needs to return and when. If there is insufficient work, consider carefully who should feasibly remain on furlough leave or if there remains the possibility of redundancies if business does not improve. 

5 Look at the financials

This should include looking at cash flows and income levels for the foreseeable future, working through various scenarios including break-even – which, for doctors, may mean adjusting for extra taxes on losing personal allowances, pension tax charges.

6Consider changes to terms and conditions 

Review contracts of employment and any policies. Think about whether you need to make temporary changes to employees’ terms and conditions, such as staggering start and finish times, introducing a rota system or considering flexible or reduced working arrangements. 

Review working policies and staff handbooks to ensure these are up to date to include the ability to change terms and conditions, flexible working and redundancies, as many working practices will have altered.

7IT systems

Review IT systems and security if you are taking a hybrid approach. Cyber-crime has increased at a phenomenal rate during the last few months and any weakness should be removed. 

Think about migrating to cloud access with more than one password for security. Consider how staff have been working from home and who else could have access, albeit unintentional, if you were to suffer a breach of your responsibilities under the General Data Protection Regulation. Do you have policies to support your expectations and have you provided appropriate training?

8 Offer support for commuters 

Explore initiatives like free parking or providing face masks for essential travel. Look at working different hours to avoid the crowded rush hours. Sharing vehicles may be preferable to public transport if in a working bubble.

9 Home-working payments

HMRC allows £26 per month as a tax-free payment if working from home is a contractual obligation, so look at the terms and conditions and see if this will save the business money if it is feasible to do so. Providing equipment such as computers and mobile phones are tax-free in these circumstances. Do staff really need to return to the office?

10Confirm the return in writing

Set out the date of the employee’s first day back. 

We know resuming work to prepare for the new reality is not going to be easy but we are here to help you every step of the way. 

Vanessa Sanders is a partner at Stanbridge Associates